The sequential discharge of neutrophilic polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) granules—azurophils and specifics—was investigated by electron microscopy and cytochemistry. Thus the enzyme content of PMN phagocytic vacuoles was determined at brief intervals after phagocytosis of bacteria, utilizing peroxidase as a marker enzyme for azurophil granules, and alkaline phosphatase for specifics. At 30 s, approximately half the phagocytic vacuoles were reactive for alkaline phosphatase, whereas none contained peroxidase. Peroxidase-containing vacuoles were rarely seen at 1 min, but by 3 min, vacuoles containing both enzymes were consistently present. Alkaline phosphatase was found in both small and large vacuoles, whereas peroxidase was visible only in large ones. By 10 min, very big phagocytic vacuoles containing considerable amounts of reaction product for both enzymes were evident. These observations indicate that the two types of PMN granules discharge in a sequential manner, specific granules fusing with the vacuole before azurophils. In an earlier paper, we reported that the pH of phagocytic vacuoles drops to 6.5 within 3 min and to ∼4 within 7–15 min. Substances known to be present in specific granules (alkaline phosphatase, lysozyme, and lactoferrin) function best at neutral or alkaline pH, whereas most of those contained in azurophil granules (i.e., peroxidase and the lysosomal enzymes) have pH optima in the acid range. Hence the sequence of granule discharge roughly parallels the change in pH, thereby providing optimal conditions for coordinated activity of granule contents.

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